Geekosystem Failure: Does TV Cause Marital Strife?

0…We love you, but you should probably stick to what you do best (sharing random, marginally humorous things you find on the internet) and leave relationship science to the experts.

A few days ago Geekosystem ran a story titled, Television Is Destroying Our Romantic Relationships, As If We Need The Help. The first two sentences of the article read as follows:

We can add television to the list of things that are destroying marriages across the world. According to a recent study from Albion University, watching television can be a significant cause of marital strife.

Interestingly, I have the original research article1 here in front of me and nowhere does it say anything about TV causing marital strife (or conflict of any sort). 

Here are the facts: In the study, nearly 400 married people reported on various aspects of their relationships. Guess what was missing from the things the researchers measured? You got it – marital strife, or anything even close to ‘marital strife’. They assessed commitment (i.e., do you want your relationship to continue?) and perceived alternatives (i.e., do you have your eye on someone else?), but no measure of strife or conflict.

Second, the research did reveal a small effect such that those couple members who watch more “romantically themed” television report slightly less commitment to their marriages. But does watching romantic TV cause low commitment? Of course not (at least you can’t say so from the data in this study). I feel like a broken record (or “an iPod set to repeat” for those non-hipsters out there who are too young to remember turntables): correlation does not equal causation. Apparently, the folks at skipped class on the day we covered that.

Using the exact same data you could just as easily claim that those who are less committed to their marriages watch more romantically-themed TV. Maybe those folks whose marriages are in trouble retreat to the living room to console themselves by watching others’ heartbreak on The Bachelor. Or maybe they distract themselves from their failing relationships by watching lots of TV in general and happen to catch a few romantically-themed shows along the way. That’s just as plausible, although equally as impossible to conclude from this study. 

Another possibility is that some other factor drives the association between watching romantic TV and (low) commitment. In this study, the researchers also measured “beliefs in television portrayals,” or the extent to which people believe that TV relationships are an accurate representation of real life relationships. Essentially, this measures unrealistic expectations about relationships. And if you dig into their results a bit more, you see that when you account for these beliefs about TV relationships, the association between commitment and amount of romantic TV watched goes away. Essentially, there are certain people with skewed views of relationships who are both less committed and like to plop themselves in front of the TV for a Sex in the City marathon. But to say that TV causes low relationship quality is just plain misleading.

A real geek would know that correlation does not equal causation. Geekosystem, you should probably leave reporting of marriage research to us relationship geeks.

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1Osborn, J. L. (in press, 2012). When TV and marriage meet: A social exchange analysis of the impact of television viewing on marital satisfaction and commitment. Mass Communication and Society.

Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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